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Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

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In this marvellous book you'll find a penetrating peon of praise to jazz aristocrat Duke Ellington, and you might also have good, if frustrating, fun arguing with James's blanket condemnation of the freer forms of jazz {he's really got it in for John Coltrane} on the perfectly sensible basis that it doesn't swing.

A little edge-rubbing to DJ, minor surface wrinkling to spine ends of DJ, VG+, bright and unmarked internally. In the same week, I was filming in Greenwich Village, and spent an hour of down-time sitting in a café making my first acquaintance with the poetry of Anthony Hecht. A brief mention at first, but James can't let it go -- a couple hundred pages later in the Arthur Schitzler section of the book, pages 690-695 are devoted to a full-fledged rant about Burton’s haircut in this movie (go ahead, check the index). With their clothes off and their virile members contractually erect, they are merely competitors in some sort of international caber-tossing competition in which they are not allowed to use their hands. With fascinating essays on artists from Louis Armstrong to Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud to Franz Kafka and Beatrix Potter to Marcel Proust, Cultural Amnesia is one of the crowning achievements in Clive James's illustrious career as a critic.The decline of grammar is a feature of our time, so I have tried, at several points in this book, to make a consideration of the decline part of the discussion. James's writings include the great tome Cultural Amnesia , the reading of which is something like getting a master's degree in 20th-century intellectual history. The most obvious sign is when he over and over says something like “the student would do well”, as if we his readers are “students” fawning at the feet of he the master teacher.

And that last sentence, in all its awkwardness and so-preachy exposition, its scornful lecturing to the students who cannot by themselves see the amazingly suave wit of Revel’s “wristy flourish”, is so typical of James. The format is of fairly concise biographical essays around key historical and cultural characters of modern history and weaving meaningful stories and historical, literary and philosophical insights around them.If the eighteenth century had meant to usher in the age of reason, the nineteenth century, with the cold snick of the guillotine ringing in its ears, meant to supply some of the regrettable deficiencies of reason by the addition of science. Reviewing the book for The Atlantic, Christopher Hitchens argued that James tries "to glamorize the uninspiring - tries to show how tough and shapely were the common sense formulations of Raymond Aron for example, when set against the seductive, panoptic bloviations of Jean Paul Sartre" and that he "succeeds in it by trying to comb out all centrist clichés and by caring almost as much about language as it is possible to do. They don’t contribute to “culture” or “humanism” (at least not often), but they frequently promote/elevate the male in his sublime creation of these things - through the romantic aura which the initial sexual attraction somehow softens into.

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